Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Weather forecasting


In late December 2015, widespread media interest revolved around forecasts that the surface air temperature at the North Pole would rise above freezing. Although there has been significant interest in the enhanced warming that is occurring at high northern latitudes, a process known as arctic amplification, remarkably little is known about these midwinter warming events at the pole including their frequency, duration and magnitude as well as the environmental conditions responsible for their occurrence. Here we use buoy and radiosonde data along with operational weather forecasts and atmospheric reanalyses to show that such events are associated with surface cyclones near the pole as well as a highly perturbed polar vortex. They occur once or twice each decade with the earliest identified event taking place in 1959. In addition, the warmest midwinter temperatures at the North Pole have been increasing at a rate that is twice as large as that for mean midwinter temperatures at the pole. It is argued that this enhanced trend is consistent with the loss of winter sea ice from the Nordic Seas that moves the reservoir of warm air over this region northwards making it easier for weather systems to transport this heat polewards.

Concepts: Earth, Heat, Navigation, Arctic Ocean, North Pole, Weather forecasting, Latitude, Polar bear


The British Isles benefits from dense meteorological observation networks, enabling insights into the still-unresolved effects of solar eclipse events on the near-surface wind field. The near-surface effects of the solar eclipse of 20 March 2015 are derived through comparison of output from the Met Office’s operational weather forecast model (which is ignorant of the eclipse) with data from two meteorological networks: the Met Office’s land surface station (MIDAS) network and a roadside measurement network operated by Vaisala. Synoptic-evolution relative calculations reveal the cooling and increase in relative humidity almost universally attributed to eclipse events. In addition, a slackening of wind speeds by up to about 2 knots in already weak winds and backing in wind direction of about 20° under clear skies across middle England are attributed to the eclipse event. The slackening of wind speed is consistent with the previously reported boundary layer stabilization during eclipse events. Wind direction changes have previously been attributed to a large-scale ‘eclipse-induced cold-cored cyclone’, mountain slope flows, and changes in the strength of sea breezes. A new explanation is proposed here by analogy with nocturnal wind changes at sunset and shown to predict direction changes consistent with those observed.This article is part of the themed issue ‘Atmospheric effects of solar eclipses stimulated by the 2015 UK eclipse’.

Concepts: Earth, Sun, Wind, Wind power, British Isles, Weather forecasting, Eclipse, Solar eclipse


In 2012, Colorado experienced one of its worst wildfire seasons of the past decade. The goal of this study was to investigate the relationship of local PM2.5 levels, modeled using the Weather Research and Forecasting Model with Chemistry, with emergency department visits and acute hospitalizations for respiratory and cardiovascular outcomes during the 2012 Colorado wildfires.

Concepts: Hospital, Climate, Weather, Season, Weather forecasting


The severity of a tropical cyclone (TC) is often summarized by its lifetime maximum intensity (LMI), and the climatological LMI distribution is a fundamental feature of the climate system. The distinctive bimodality of the LMI distribution means that major storms (LMI >96 kt) are not very rare compared with less intense storms. Rapid intensification (RI) is the dramatic strengthening of a TC in a short time, and is notoriously difficult to forecast or simulate. Here we show that the bimodality of the LMI distribution reflects two types of storms: those that undergo RI during their lifetime (RI storms) and those that do not (non-RI storms). The vast majority (79%) of major storms are RI storms. Few non-RI storms (6%) become major storms. While the importance of RI has been recognized in weather forecasting, our results demonstrate that RI also plays a crucial role in the TC climatology.

Concepts: Precipitation, Climate, Weather, Storm, Meteorology, Tropical cyclone, Cyclone, Weather forecasting


Laboratory and epidemiological evidence indicate that ambient humidity modulates the survival and transmission of influenza. Here we explore whether the inclusion of humidity forcing in mathematical models describing influenza transmission improves the accuracy of forecasts generated with those models. We generate retrospective forecasts for 95 cities over 10 seasons in the United States and assess both forecast accuracy and error. Overall, we find that humidity forcing improves forecast performance (at 1-4 lead weeks, 3.8% more peak week and 4.4% more peak intensity forecasts are accurate than with no forcing) and that forecasts generated using daily climatological humidity forcing generally outperform forecasts that utilize daily observed humidity forcing (4.4% and 2.6% respectively). These findings hold for predictions of outbreak peak intensity, peak timing, and incidence over 2- and 4-week horizons. The results indicate that use of climatological humidity forcing is warranted for current operational influenza forecast.

Concepts: Regression analysis, Epidemiology, Prediction, Futurology, Future, Forecasting, Hygrometer, Weather forecasting


BACKGROUND: Low absolute humidity (AH) has been associated with increased influenza virus survival and transmissibility and the onset of seasonal influenza outbreaks. Humidification of indoor environments may mitigate viral transmission and may be an important control strategy, particularly in schools where viral transmission is common and contributes to the spread of influenza in communities. However, the variability and predictors of AH in the indoor school environment and the feasibility of classroom humidification to levels that could decrease viral survival have not been studied. METHODS: Automated sensors were used to measure temperature, humidity and CO2 levels in two Minnesota grade schools without central humidification during two successive winters. Outdoor AH measurements were derived from the North American Land Data Assimilation System. Variability in indoor AH within classrooms, between classrooms in the same school, and between schools was assessed using concordance correlation coefficients (CCC). Predictors of indoor AH were examined using time-series Auto-Regressive Conditional Heteroskedasticity models. Classroom humidifiers were used when school was not in session to assess the feasibility of increasing indoor AH to levels associated with decreased influenza virus survival, as projected from previously published animal experiments. RESULTS: AH varied little within classrooms (CCC >0.90) but was more variable between classrooms in the same school (CCC 0.81 for School 1, 0.88 for School 2) and between schools (CCC 0.81). Indoor AH varied widely during the winter (range 2.60 to 10.34 millibars [mb]) and was strongly associated with changes in outdoor AH (p < 0.001). Changes in indoor AH on school weekdays were strongly associated with CO2 levels (p < 0.001). Over 4 hours, classroom humidifiers increased indoor AH by 4 mb, an increase sufficient to decrease projected 1-hour virus survival by an absolute value of 30% during winter months. CONCLUSIONS: During winter, indoor AH in non-humidified grade schools varies substantially and often to levels that are very low. Indoor results are predicted by outdoor AH over a season and CO2 levels (which likely reflects human activity) during individual school days. Classroom humidification may be a feasible approach to increase indoor AH to levels that may decrease influenza virus survival and transmission.

Concepts: Influenza, High school, Relative humidity, Primary school, Primary education, Winter, Weather forecasting, Reassortment


Influenza recurs seasonally in temperate regions of the world; however, our ability to predict the timing, duration, and magnitude of local seasonal outbreaks of influenza remains limited. Here we develop a framework for initializing real-time forecasts of seasonal influenza outbreaks, using a data assimilation technique commonly applied in numerical weather prediction. The availability of real-time, web-based estimates of local influenza infection rates makes this type of quantitative forecasting possible. Retrospective ensemble forecasts are generated on a weekly basis following assimilation of these web-based estimates for the 2003-2008 influenza seasons in New York City. The findings indicate that real-time skillful predictions of peak timing can be made more than 7 wk in advance of the actual peak. In addition, confidence in those predictions can be inferred from the spread of the forecast ensemble. This work represents an initial step in the development of a statistically rigorous system for real-time forecast of seasonal influenza.

Concepts: Scientific method, Regression analysis, Prediction, Futurology, Future, Forecasting, Reference class forecasting, Weather forecasting


A solar eclipse provides a well-characterized reduction in solar radiation, of calculable amount and duration. This captivating natural astronomical phenomenon is ideally suited to science outreach activities, but the predictability of the change in solar radiation also provides unusual conditions for assessing the atmospheric response to a known stimulus. Modern automatic observing networks used for weather forecasting and atmospheric research have dense spatial coverage, so the quantitative meteorological responses to an eclipse can now be evaluated with excellent space and time resolution. Numerical models representing the atmosphere at high spatial resolution can also be used to predict eclipse-related changes and interpret the observations. Combining the models with measurements yields the elements of a controlled atmospheric experiment on a regional scale (10-1000 km), which is almost impossible to achieve by other means. This modern approach to ‘eclipse meteorology’ as identified here can ultimately improve weather prediction models and be used to plan for transient reductions in renewable electricity generation. During the 20 March 2015 eclipse, UK electrical energy demand increased by about 3 GWh (11 TJ) or about 4%, alongside reductions in the wind and photovoltaic electrical energy generation of 1.5 GWh (5.5 TJ).This article is part of the themed issue ‘Atmospheric effects of solar eclipses stimulated by the 2015 UK eclipse’.

Concepts: Earth, Sun, Mercury, Meteorology, Wind, Weather forecasting, Eclipse, Solar eclipse


The ability to forecast sea ice (both extent and thickness) and weather conditions are the major factors when it comes to safe marine transportation in the Arctic Ocean. This paper presents findings focusing on sea ice and weather prediction in the Arctic Ocean for navigation purposes, in particular along the Northeast Passage. Based on comparison with the observed sea ice concentrations for validation, the best performing Earth system models from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) program (CMIP5-Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 5) were selected to provide ranges of potential future sea ice conditions. Our results showed that, despite a general tendency toward less sea ice cover in summer, internal variability will still be large and shipping along the Northeast Passage might still be hampered by sea ice blocking narrow passages. This will make sea ice forecasts on shorter time and space scales and Arctic weather prediction even more important.

Concepts: Prediction, Future, Climate, Meteorology, Forecasting, Ocean, Arctic Ocean, Weather forecasting


The devastating North China drought in the summer of 2015 was roughly captured by a dynamical seasonal climate forecast model with a good prediction of the 2015/16 big El Niño. This raises a question of whether strong El Niños imply higher predictability of extreme droughts. Here we show that a strong El Niño does not necessarily result in an extreme drought, but it depends on whether the El Niño evolves synergistically with Eurasian spring snow cover reduction to trigger a positive summer Eurasian teleconnection (EU) pattern that favors anomalous northerly and air sinking over North China. The dynamical forecast model that only well represents the El Niño underpredicts the drought severity, while a dynamical-statistical forecasting approach that combines both the low- and high-latitudes precursors is more skillful at long lead. In a warming future, the vanishing cryosphere should be better understood to improve predictability of extreme droughts.

Concepts: Snow, Ice, Prediction, Future, Precipitation, Forecasting, Weather forecasting, Summer of Love